Your Nemesis, The Short Nap

February 23, 2012 |  by  |  0-3 Months, 1 YO, 3-6 Months, 6-9 Months, 9-12 Months, naps
Your Nemesis, The Short Nap

A short nap is generally anything between 10-45 minutes. Sometimes short naps sneak in during car trips or while nursing or taking a bottle. Sometimes a temporary sleep regression, ear infection, or ferocious bout of teething will result in short naps. But for some of you, short naps are simply a constant part of life. If so, you’re probably pretty keen to help your baby take longer naps because…

Short Naps Suck

There are many reasons why short naps suck but the big three are:

  • You’ll spend longer putting baby to sleep than your baby actually sleeps.
  • You never get break.
  • Babies who take consistently short naps are generally unhappy babies.

Really, neither you nor your baby is particularly happy about short naps.

The Short Nap Myth

You can’t make your newborn baby nap longer. Some babies will start taking longer naps earlier than others. There is always some Mom in the new baby playgroup that will tell you that their baby takes 3 hour naps all day long because of the magical book they read. Nope. Their baby is taking long naps because she is biologically ready to do so.

Want Long Naps?

Newborn babies will often take itty-bitty cat naps all day long until they consolidate their naps into longer chunkier naps. Nap consolidation can happen anytime between 6 weeks and 6 months. If you are the parent of a baby under 6 months you are probably pretty keen to have your baby consolidate naps. Parenting a cat napper can be exhausting and frustrating.


Sleep consolidation also reflects the maturation of intrinsic bioregulatory processes.

Unfortunately you can’t force a short-napper into taking longer naps. There are internal processes within your baby that need to develop and you can’t make it happen. Generally people refer to this as your baby’s circadian rhythm although it’s actually rather complex and involves multiple parts of the brain. You don’t need to know the specifics although you can impress your friends by dropping this quote (from the NIH article).

Just know that you can’t MAKE it happen and if yours is the last baby on the block taking short crappy naps, it’s not necessarily because you are failing as a parent, you have a bad baby, or because of that one glass of white wine you had when you were pregnant.

Short Naps For All Eternity?

You can, of course, delay nap consolidation by keeping your baby awake too long resulting in them becoming OVERtired. Overtired babies generally take short naps. If your baby is less than 6 months old and you’re doing everything you can to keep your baby from being awake too long, you’re providing lots of age-appropriate soothing, etc. and your baby STILL takes short naps, then it just means she isn’t ready to take longer naps yet. It’ll come.

However if your baby is older than 6 months and still taking short naps then you may have a problem.

  • The #1 reason babies over 6 months are taking short naps is that they’re not falling asleep on their own yet.
  • The #2 most common reason (which is actually related) is that you’re still using pacifiers and/or bottles at bedtime.
  • And #1 & #2 are almost always compounded by…
  • Keeping baby awake too long.
  • Lack of consistency (where they sleep, bedtime/nap routines, etc.).
  • Chronic sleep deprivation (tired babies are generally crappy nappers).

If you’re still rocking/nursing/bouncing them fully to sleep, or putting them to sleep with a pacifier or bottle, I can pretty much guarantee that they’ll take short naps forever. Helping your baby learn to fall asleep without you/bottle/pacifier is NOT EASY. Neither is getting your kid out of diapers, dealing with bullies, or having the condom talk. And yet these are all things you’ll have to do.

Similarly you are no longer the parent of a newborn who could easily sleep whenever and wherever it suited. As the parent of a regulation-sized baby it’s time to get serious about making sure you are home at nap time, using consistent routines when it’s time for sleep, and having your baby sleep in the same place round the clock.

How Long Is a Long Nap?

A long nap is generally around 1-1.5 hours although some lucky moms have been blessed with 3 hour nappers. You can identify these parents because of their healthy glow. And the fact that they’re about to get their first novel published.

So good luck getting your short napper to take long naps. Feel free to share how and when you achieved nap nirvana!

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{photo credit: yoshimov}


376 Comments


  1. Hi ladies, I’m a first-time mommy to an awesome four month old who used to not nap at all and then started “spoiling” us with a few rare 30min naps here and there… Until a few weeks ago…

    I think I may have figured out a MAGIC SOLUTION to longer naps (hmm maybe I can get rich fast) – and its called… swimming lessons!! Since we signed the little man up for swimming (30min lessons twice a week at 8.30am), he started having two 2.5 hr naps and great nights. The important BUT here is that although swimming has improved his napping/sleeping overall, its only really good on swim days and falls back apart the further we get from swim days.

    Anyhow, give it a try if you have a pool nearby and good luck!

    And Alexis – thanks so much for your posts, I found so much great info here. Definitely guilty of a few bad habits you mentioned and will be working on changing things.

  2. Hi Alexis, I am praying you can help me. My son is almost 8 months old, and since about 4 months, we are lucky if he naps for a total of 1 hour each day. he goes to bed on his own, with a nice routine: bottle, bath, stories, crib. some days he cries for 1 minute, some days he cries for 10 or 20. Then he usually wakes up once during the night to eat, and is up around 5-6 am and we feed him again and he usually falls back down asleep until about 7am. He then goes down for first nap about 2 hours after wake up, usually 9 and sleeps about 25-30 minutes. Then another nap around 1130-12, and same thing, sleeps 25-30 minutes, and a third nap around 3pm for 20-30 minutes, and then bedtime is usually 6pm. I don’t know why he cant nap longer since he goes to bed awake at night….
    What else can we do. He doesn’t really have a lovey. he has used a paci off and on, but that never seemed to help so we stopped using it. I am really at my wits end here…Help Please!!
    Dawn
    Dawn recently posted..Pediatrics Study on White Noise: Sounding Off on Sound MachinesMy Profile

    • Did you get it figured out? my daughter was like this too and I thought I’d go crazy. My daughter at night sleeps about 6:30 to 6:30, with one feeding but catnaps all the daytime since she was about 7 weeks old or so (she is now 6.5 months). I might have it figured out by increasing the awake time significantly, even though they are acting tired. She had been getting only 3 30 minute naps when I decided to do this. I saw it on someones blog who had a similar problem.

      • Can you be more specific about how you’ve improved the situation? My baby is 6 months old and has always been a catnapper as well – he typically takes three 25-30 min naps a day…can be quite frustrating. Do you remember what blog you read that helped? What are your baby’s naps like now?

        • See my post below for more details about what I tried. Honestly, I don’t think it was anything specific, at the time I thought that increasing her awake time between naps to 3 hours solved it, because it worked for some lady on a blog. When I first tried it, it worked! But it was difficult to keep her awake that long, so I decreased her awake time down to 2-2.25 hours and she still took a long nap. I think she was just ready for long naps. She used to take 3 20-40 minute naps per day up until about age 6 months. I tried letting her “resettle herself” when she was 4 months, 5 months, but it never worked. I think when she turned 6 months, she became even more active and was eating solid foods, it was just that something just “clicked” and she just started being able to resettle herself after 30 or 40 minutes and go for another sleep cycle, or even more…. I felt just like you, extremely frustrated and worried about her lack of sleep, and I thought she would NEVER take a long nap (she catnapped since about age 7 weeks old or so). I read all the sleep books, nothing worked, she just wasn’t able to do it. Her first “long nap” was 80 minutes and it happened 2 times in the first week at age 6 months. I thought it was a fluke and maybe she was sick. Then it happened again a couple days later, a long morning nap. Then by age 6.5 months, she started taking a daily morning long nap of at least 80 minutes, and two 40 minute catnaps in the afternoon. Now at nearly 7 months old, sometimes she takes two long naps (80+ minutes) and 1 late 30-40 minute catnap, or sometimes she takes a 40 minute catnap in the a.m. and a long afternoon nap. Sometimes (but not always) she wakes up after the 1st 40 minutes and resettles herself after 10 minutes or so of squirming/eye rubbing/yawning/talking. She could never do that before. I hate to say it, but I think you might just have to wait it out a little more and her naps will consolidate. You could try increasing the awake time to 3 hours, and see if it works, but you might wait a little bit longer, maybe 2 weeks or so and see if the naps naturally lengthen. I know how you feel though, it is SO HARD, and my baby fought EVERY SINGLE NAP unless she was nursed to sleep. She still fights napping. Good luck, hang in there, hopefully in the next month things will start to improve.

          • I should add that I put the baby in the crib to sleep while she is awake about 80% of the time and then leave and shut the door (very dark room, white noise). And I have generally been doing that since she was about 4 months old. Sometimes I nurse her to sleep if desperate though or nurse her till she is very drowsy then plop her in bed.

    • Have you tried going in soothing him, then leaving for ten to 15 minutes?
      He will cry. Keep doing it until he gets the message you expect him to take a longer nap!

  3. Hello Alexis! You’ve already helped us figure out how to help our son sleep better before! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. ;)
    Our son, H (11 weeks old), is a great night sleeper. He’s already averaging around 7 hours between nursings. He’s a breeze to put down. 98 percent of the time he doesn’t even cry initially. And during the middle of the night or for dream feeds, he doesn’t fuss at all.
    But he’s a chronic cat napper. You can set a timer on his exactly 30 minute naps. He goes down for naps just as easily as he does for bed time, so I don’t usually have to work hard getting him to sleep then. But it’s been virtually impossible to get him to sleep again after he wakes up from his 30 minutes. He’s a happy kid when he’s not being forced to try to nap. Should I just accept that this is how he’s napping for now?
    We already use swaddling, white noise, darkness, pacis, and a vibrating bouncy seat for his sleeping times. He goes out down to sleep drowsy, but still awake, and then falls asleep by himself. And we’ve tried everything we could think of or researched to try to get him to sleep after the initial 30 and not much has worked. We tried crying it out yesterday and he wouldn’t sleep again and then was not himself (clingy, fussy, and wouldn’t stop crying) for around 30 minutes after that.
    30 minute naps are inconvenient and annoying, but not something I can’t live through if it’s temporary.
    Bekah recently posted..Growing toward ChristlikenessMy Profile

  4. Hi! My situation with my 2nd baby is pretty much the same as Bekah’s. She’s almost 12 weeks, sleeps brilliantly all night and always goes to sleep on her own. However in the day, unless we’re out in the stroller she sleeps 30 mins at a time. I’ve started putting her to nap in the stroller at home now so I can jump up and rock it to try to get her into the next sleep cycle – with mixed results. Also started using the pacifier much more than I’d planned to, in desperation, so am a bit afraid it’ll turn into a nightmare for us soon. My first child was a short napper for sooooo long I really hoped there would be something I could do about it this time. We don’t have a nap routine. Could this be the problem? I can’t bear the idea of staying in all day and at this stage there’s no clear schedule for her day so it would be impossible to plan anything – plus with a toddler I do have to go out quite a lot. Is a swing the answer?? Or dare I say it, Gina Ford?!

  5. Sorry I meant to say that the reason I’m wondering whether I’m doing something wrong is that this is a relatively new thing. She’s been sleeping 6-10 hours at night since she was 5 weeks, and was having long day sleeps too. The 30 minute sleep is only appearing in the last few weeks and only when stationary! Thanks :-)

  6. My 6 month old daughter has not napped longer than 30-45 minutes at home since she was 2 months old. However, she takes a 1.5 hour morning nap and 2 – 3 hour afternoon nap at daycare. Should we be letting her cry it out at home when she wakes up from naps? Thank you!

  7. Hi Alexis!

    Thanks you for the fantastic site! I’d love your advice on one thing. My baby (10wks) is a terrible sleeper. His ‘bedtime’ tends to be somewhere between 9pm and 11pm. His first sleep is generally about 2.5 hrs, followed by 1.5. hrs and then a couple 45min-1hr sleeps (ugh!). But my question is about his naps. He takes about three 45min01hr naps throughout the day but then often takes a longer nap of 2.5-3hrs starting at about 5pm. I know they say never wake a sleeping baby, but I worry such a long nap so close to bedtime may have an effect of his very short first sleep after bedtime? Would you recommend we not allow him to nap for so long in the early evening to help him sleep longer at night or are the two likely unrelated?

    Thank you so much for the great resource!
    Emily
    Emily recently posted..Toby: 8 Week UpdateMy Profile

  8. So my 6.5 month old has been a catnapper since age 8 weeks. She is very alert and active (from birth) and she gives very few clear tired signs. She will go from wide awake playing / talking / wildness in her crib and then simply turn her head to the side and fall asleep (we have a video monitor). She would take 5 40 min naps a day and then we were down to 4 40 minute naps per day and recently, since about age 5.5 or 6 months, she went down to 3 30-40 minute naps per day. She sleeps very well at night, with only 1 waking to feed, sleeping about 11.5 hours at night. She usually woke up from the short naps smiling, but appeared to be tired 45 minutes to 1 hour after waking up, so I thought she was still tired. She usually goes to sleep on her own in her crib (after 10-30 minutes of talking/babbling). She really seems to like having the small “AngelDear” lovey in her crib so she can cuddle and suck on it, etc. She is still in the Baby Merlin sleep suit because she likes to roll over onto her belly and call out for me to roll her back. If it took her longer than 45 minutes to fall asleep, I would intervene and nurse her to sleep. She wasn’t on any regular schedule because I never knew when she would actually fall asleep. I tried all the various awake times over the months (45 minutes to 2.5 hours and more). About 2 weeks ago (at age 6 months exactly, and had been on solid food for about 2 weeks) she took her first nap longer than 40 minutes (1.5 hours! yipeee!). She did this 3 more times over the 2 week period, but there seemed to be no consistency, other then 3 of the 4 times it was for her morning nap. I recently came across a blog where the lady was in a similar situation with the catnaps and tried to increase her daughters awake time to 3 hours at age 4 months. It didn’t work. She tried again at 6 months and it worked and the baby started taking long naps. Well, I thought about it for a week and finally gave it a shot after my daughter was in the crib for 45 minutes not falling asleep (although yawning, etc.). I pulled her out of the crib and kept her up for another hour. Put her back down after being up for 3 hours and she slept 1.5 hours!!!! Her afternoon nap was still short though and she wouldn’t go down for a catnap before bedtime. Now I am on day two. I tried it again, keeping her up almost 3 hours after waking. It was hard, she started getting really tired after 2 hours. So I put her down at about 2 hr 45 minutes, nursing for a few minutes then plopped her in the crib and she fell right asleep and slept for 1.5 hours! I will keep working on this method until I find the right awake time, but I think her awake time was too short for her (many of the books say 1.5 – 2 hrs) as a very active and alert baby. Maybe it is more like 2 hr 45 minutes to 3 hours, even for the first nap, unlike what the books say. Anyways, I thought I’d share this with you.

    • I should add that she only sleeps well in a bed or crib in darkness and white noise machine on. When she was little (under 2 months old) she used to be able to fall asleep sometimes in the car and in a baby carrier like the Ergo, but not anymore. I take her on walks in a stoller and she doesn’t fall asleep, she seems way too interested in everything around her to bother with sleep. Also, if I disturb her during her wind down time in her crib, she gets fired up and excited and it makes it more difficult to fall asleep. When she was very little, like 6 weeks old, we were doing everything rocking/jiggling/bouncing, etc. to get her to fall asleep at bed time, and she was crying. Finally I decided to just set her down in her crib. She immediately stopped crying and then started talking to her self and she fell asleep! I couldn’t believe it. This didn’t work all the time at that age, but starting at about 3 months on, that is what she preferred for bed time and most naps.

      • My baby fusses when he wants me to put him down ;). Some babies are like that!

      • Just an update on this. At nearly 7 months old, she is still taking at least 1 long nap per day but I no longer think it was due to increasing her awake time (although it might have triggered the long naps). I think it was more just developmental, something finally just clicked and she can resettle after the first sleep cycle now. She has been taking long naps in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon too. I decreased her awake time from 3 hrs, to about 2 hrs before the first nap and 2.25 to 3 for the afternoon naps. Good luck, and know that you can try everything, but better just to go with the flow as much as possible and eventually your baby will figure it out, and then you can get on a schedule.

        • Hi Emily, My baby boy is 6.5 months. If he misses one cat nap (out of 4) he’s super tired… Why did you go back on the 3 hour break between naps?

          • Yes, we used to be on 4 catnaps, and then it got bad down to 3 catnaps! She was so tired. She still seemed tired on 4 catnaps too. Then one day, she just started resettling herself, this happened a couple of times per week. Then I tried a 3 hour awake time and she took a long nap 2 times in one day. But it was difficult to keep her up for 3 hours, she seemed tired. So I started throttling back to under 3 hours. Now it is 2 hours before 1st nap, then 2.25-2.5 hours between second and third naps and about 1.5 to 2 hrs awake before bedtime. The 2nd and 3rd naps are often only 40 minutes, but she now always gets one long nap of 1 hr 20 minutes or more. I think it was just a developmental thing, but not sure. She fights almost all naps, except when I nurse her to sleep, or nurse her to where she is almost asleep. I just let her fuss in her crib to sleep.

      • Did the 3 hr sleep method work?
        thanks!

  9. Hi Alexis! I just want to say I love wine, cheese, and Game of Thrones also!
    My boy is 6 months old and I am tackling night weaning right now.

  10. Hello!
    I’ve got a 10-month old baby boy, who has been sleeping through the night pretty solidly from about 7-months. (We had to do some CIO, which was rough, but he took to it pretty well.) However, I am a stay at home mom (I work evenings), and I cannot get baby to take naps in his crib. I have just been co-sleeping for his naps, which is sometimes nice, because I usually need the rest, but other times, it’s a pain. If I try to put him in his crib, drowsy, he throws a fit. Is this just a new CIO hurdle that I need to go through? I think it is tougher for me than it is for his father, who can ‘sometimes’ get him to take naps in his crib. Is doing CIO for naps different than nighttime sleep?
    Thank you!

    • My baby sometimes fusses and cries in her crib but there really is nothing I can do, I think she is crying because she is either very tired, or wants to nurse to sleep, but not because she hates the crib, because she has been taking naps / sleeping at night in her crib since very little. The minute I go in, she just got all excited and smiley that I was there, and then it would take forever for her to settle back down again. In the past, sometimes it took her about 30-45 minutes before she fell asleep in her crib, sometimes she would just squirm around, talk to herself, or fuss (and then she would only sleep for a 40 minute catnap! So frustrating!). I got a video cam because I was going in and checking on her and she was just getting fired up from it. So now I can just leave her be to settle down on her own. She won’t sleep if I am there watching her, she gets too excited. The only time I sleep next to her is if I nurse her to sleep and I want to sleep with her, but then I have to put a pillow in between us so she doesn’t see me (and she squirms a bunch so it is difficult for me to sleep with her). I think you might just have to let your baby fuss it out. I was lucky that my baby didn’t cry much, only fuss and whine for awhile, but she has cried on occasion, but that usually means she is extremely tired, and she is usually out of it after a few minutes (up to 15).

  11. Hi Alexis and mums!

    Well, my gorgeous 10 months old little girl and I are Staring into the abyss of CIO. One night down, 2 to go. First night she cried for 55 minutes, then it all went quiet. I tiptoed to her room to find her on her haunches, clinging onto the crib side fast asleep. Right there my heart tore from my chest and I dissolved into a right sobbing mess. I felt like I just deserved the worst parent in the world sash. How could this little angel understand that mummy still loves her and did not abandon her…..in the dark dark night. All I could think about was her crying for someone to give comfort,but no one came…;( I know it’s for her own good’ but the guilt is horrendous to swallow.

    We will persevere as much as we can. We decided to go cold turkey on the paci, luckily she also has a lovey. We’ve changed up bedtime routine, I stopped nursing her to sleep, we read a book before bed and put down AWAKE , however yawning, ear tugging and nose rubbing. If I fed her closer to bed time she would have been fast asleep, only to wake up between 01:00-02:00 demanding to co-sleep. Her last feed at night is at 18:45-19:00, followed by a 5a.m feed (breastfeeding)

    From reading plenty of sleep guides, it seems the key to sleeping through the night is having good naps? However, a baby won’t nap well if they aren’t sleeping through the night? my Lon naps 30-40 minutes – maybe -twice a day and that is only if I nurse her to sleep or previously gave a paci. She will sleep close to 2 hours if she co-sleeps which I often do with her in the morning as I try catch up on lost night time sleep.

    As I am now not feeding to sleep at night and doing the CIO maneuver – how do I manage naps? Do I also let her CIO, do I not feed to sleep? Do I not co-sleep? They really do need to be more structured but I have no clue how to do so.

    Alexis, you are such a hoot. When the wheels fall off and I need a little pep talk, reading your blog always makes me feel that it’s a mountain I CAN climb, and that it’s important to take a deep breath of the fresh air up there and admire the view before trudging on. Perspective is key!

    Thanks to all the mums who post their experiences, you too give me strength, as I see a little piece of my baby girl in each of your stories, and it makes me feel a little less lonely and ever hopeful!

    **

  12. Okay I’ve been reading this blog since my now almost 7 month old baby girl was 3 months. I love it. But, I’ve never commented or asked for help. I am now! I feel it’s my duty. :-)

    My little nugget is a pretty good night sleeper in her crib. She sleeps through the night or close to it, and has since about four months. Every so often she still has one night waking — but if she does wake, we can still usually count on 7pm-3am or 4am; after a 3-4 oz feeding, she easily goes back down until 6am or 630am (and on the days the sleep angels are with us, 7am. I love those days.) I do consider us lucky. She has a lovey, a white noise machine, and sometimes a quick paci is needed when we put her down – but most of the time, no paci at all.

    Here’s the thing – while she rarely if ever puts up a fight to fall asleep in her crib at night, she NEVER naps in her crib. She will only ever nap in her car seat. She can go for 2 hours or more at times, stationary in her car seat, in her room. She does not need motion. But with the crib, getting her to nap is like some sort of sweet torture. She can be exhausted, 2 or more hours after awake time in the morning, rubbing her eyes, yawning, even closing her eyes. I then put her in the crib and she is instantly AWAKE. Laughing, smiling, squealing. For 45+ minutes. I have tried check ins and shush pats. She just smiles her endearing “I know you think I’m cute” smile and starts to fuss if I leave. I’ve tried no check ins, but after 40 minutes of her half-partying/half-fussing I usually intervene. Sometimes she’s so tired she starts crying at the 20 minute mark, but still won’t fall asleep.

    When I can’t take it anymore I put her in the car seat next to the crib, and bam – asleep with her lovey and sometimes a paci/sometimes no paci within two minutes.

    I’m back at work, so I can’t work on changing this behavior all day long, but I do have a nanny with 15+ years of experience and even she has had little if any success with getting baby girl to nap in the crib. If she does succeed, it is after 45 to 50 minutes of not leaving her side, and the nap is maybe 30 minutes.

    Any thoughts, help, similar situations? I might add she is also getting too big for her car seat! We probably have one more month before we need to switch to the next level up … Grrr.

    • She’s got a HUGE car seat = sleep association so when you put her in the crib she’s thinking it’s playtime.

      This trips up tons of people – different parts of the brain manage day vs. night sleep so crib=sleep at NIGHT but she doesn’t understand that during the DAY. So, there you are.

      I would definitely put the car seat IN the crib as a transition. When you’re ready to be done full on then you’re done with the car seat. It may be a bit of a rocky transition for a while with short naps while she figures out that crib=sleep for NAPPING. At that point consistency is key so when you make the move you MAKE IT. No dabbling or trying it here and there. If you’re trying to get her to understand she naps in the crib then she naps in the crib 100% of the time.

      Will she take short naps forever? No. But it’ll take a while. Anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Be mindful that you aren’t creating bad habits by hanging out with her when she naps. You may want to consider that for a day or two while you transition but then you work towards not hanging around while she falls asleep.

      It’ll happen. It seems impossible, but I promise it will!
      Alexis recently posted..Pediatrics Study on White Noise: Sounding Off on Sound MachinesMy Profile

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